Did you know that self-care is just as important when you’re traveling as it is at home? In this post, I’ll share my own story about learning to practice self-care while traveling, some strategies to help you care for yourself, and some quick fix ideas for when you’re struggling midway through your trip.
What is self-care?
Self-care is any activity that you do that supports your wellness, including both your mental and physical health. The self-care techniques that work for you will vary, but some common techniques are: reading, meditation, taking a break, yoga, journaling, and drinking water. I’ll outline specific techniques that you can use to practice self-care later in this post.
Why is self-care important when traveling?
When you’re experiencing adventure and loads of new experiences, it can be easy to put your normal self-care routine on the back burner. It makes sense, right? Travel is probably something you’re doing for self-care. You can probably sideline your normal habits for a short period, but ignoring self-care will inhibit your trip over time.
The small amounts of time and energy that you put towards self-care while traveling can have a huge impact on how much you’re able to actually enjoy your trip. Think about it this way: have you ever been on a vacation and you’re so behind on your sleep that you can’t enjoy the activities on your itinerary? Have you ever gotten so hungry that you spent an afternoon just trudging along, grumpy with your travel companions and biding your time until you could get to a restaurant? If so, you probably let your self-care routine lapse a little.
A little bit of time invested in self-care while you’re traveling can help you to have more energy, patience, emotional space, and fun.
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My story of self-care
I learned about the importance of self-care while studying in Guatemala on my first trip abroad. While I was there, I studied in a Spanish language school that held classes on weekdays, but also organized trips in the afternoons or on weekends. When I arrived and saw the schedule, I assumed that I would attend every single outing so that I got the most out of my trip. The field trips were interesting and varied, from pickup soccer to visiting waterfalls to hiking in the jungle.
Once I started attending these outings, I learned very quickly that I couldn’t do it all. I had to choose between feeling rested and being able to enjoy the activities. I noticed that I needed a break after more demanding days or activities, and I soon learned to give myself that break. I skipped a hike to just lay in bed and take a nap. It felt strange to miss travel experiences just to rest, but it helped me to ensure that I had the stamina to get the most out of my trip overall.
Since that trip, I’ve gotten better at traveling and I’ve learned more about what I need to be happy and regulated. When I first arrive in a new place, it takes me a day or two to adjust, especially if English isn’t the primary language. I’ve learned to recognize that it’s emotionally draining to be in a new place, one where you don’t know the rules or what is appropriate or even where you’ll buy things. So, I listen to my body and routinely get in touch with my emotions, then take corrective actions if something feels “off.”
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Self-Care Tips While Traveling
Here are my best tips for self-care, based on my experience. If there are other practices that work for you, or that you don’t see listed here, by all means include them in your routine!
Remembering to drink water is one of the easiest ways to support your well being. Carry a water bottle with you, and fill it whenever you have the opportunity. When traveling in places where you’ll need to filter water, you can either use a portable pen sterilizer or fill your bottle with bottled water.
A good way to remember to drink water is to drink a glass whenever you have a meal. This one is simple, just order a glass of water each time you sit down and make sure you don’t leave without finishing it.
Not sure if you’ve had enough water?
In less than 10 seconds, you can do a capillary refill test on your hand to see if you may be dehydrated. Simply press gently but firmly on your finger in the space between your nail bed and knuckle for five seconds, then remove the pressure. It should take your finger 1 to 3 seconds to return to its normal color. If it takes longer than this, you may be dehydrated.
*This post is not a substitute for medical care. Please seek medical attention if you have any concerns about your health.
2. Stay connected to loved ones
Travel can be isolating, even when it feels like you’re never alone. Address the isolation head on by proactively reaching out to your friends and family at home. Take a few minutes before you go to bed to send out some pictures from your trip, text a quick update, or share what you’re most excited for in your itinerary. Sharing your trip with people you love will help you to feel closer to them, and it’ll give you positive reinforcement about your trip.
Travel is also a wonderful way to make new friends, so be sure to leave some time for connection while you’re on the road.
3. Practice mindfulness and/or meditation
Mindfulness and meditation are great ways to feel more grounded, centered, and present while traveling. Taking a few minutes to get present and settle your mind can help you to calm down and stay cool during dreaded travel mishaps like an argument with your travel companions or a missed flight.
Mindfulness is the practice of noticing and engaging with your experience in the moment. The more you can practice presence–remaining focused on the here and now, as opposed to the future or the past–the more you’re likely to enjoy your trip. In fact, I love travel precisely because it helps me to stay mindful and present. Check out @mindfulenough__ on Instagram for more mindfulness tips.
Meditation is a separate, but related, practice where you learn to notice your thoughts without accepting them. There are lots of types of meditation, but a simple and accessible way to meditate is to sit with your eyes closed and focus your attention on your breathing for 3-5 minutes. Guided meditations can also be a great way to learn; I love this meditation by Baron Baptiste. Try not to get caught up in whether or not you’re doing it “right” and instead focus on feeling present in your body for a few minutes at a time.
4. Eat well
Travel, and especially budget travel, is usually full of bread, sugar, and dairy because those foods are cheap and readily available. If you don’t make a conscious effort to eat lots of fruits and veggies, you may well find yourself living on carbs for the duration of your trip. Try to focus on little ways that you can add fiber to your diet; is it possible to add some tomato to that sandwich? Can you snack on some almonds or nuts instead of a candy bar? Can you order a fruit plate for breakfast one day instead of toast?
What it means to eat well will vary based on each place you visit, so I just try to sneak in fruits and veggies when and where I can. On a recent trip to Florence, my friends and I splurged on a healthy and filling brunch, complete with sauteed kale and green juices, after having one too many plates of pasta for dinner.
Sometimes the barrier to eating fruits and veggies when you’re traveling is a concern about food safety. If you’re in a place where it’s not safe to eat fresh fruits and vegetables washed by a restaurant, try going to a market and buying some produce with a peel. Bananas and oranges are the easiest options, as they can be eaten without other preparation. If you have a knife available, you can slice other produce after washing it in sterile water.
5. Drink alcohol in moderation (or skip it)
Alcohol can dehydrate you and interrupt your sleep, both big parts of wellness on a trip. If you decide to drink while traveling, be sure to drink in moderation and always have a plan for how you’ll get home.
6. Get enough sleep
Sleep is an essential part of any self-care routine, and you’ll need to make sure that you get some solid rest on a few nights of your trip. Travel is emotionally demanding; you’re in a new place, often surrounded by new people and new stressors. Between navigating a new language, different cultural customs, and the other inherent challenges of travel, you need to recharge with a decent night of sleep as often as possible.
You know your body best, so trust yourself. I need at least 6 hours of sleep each night, though 7-8 is better, so I try to make sure that I get it more often than not when traveling.
A lack of sleep tends to have a cumulative effect, meaning that the more days you go without sleeping, the more tired you’ll feel when you wake up. Thus, make some extra time for sleep after an early morning flight, since you’ll probably need a little extra R&R to make up for the interruption.
If you’re exhausted and need a quick pick-me-up, here’s a list of tips that can help.
Journaling is simply the practice of writing down your thoughts and feelings, which can help you to understand them more clearly. I love to look back at my thoughts and feelings from a trip, so I like to spend a few minutes journaling as often as possible. Sometimes you’ll journal about moments that were exciting or happy, other times it’ll cover frustrations. Either way, writing out your thoughts can help you to process them.
If you’re feeling sad about your trip coming to an end, I created a journaling exercise for the post vacation blues.
8. Use social media responsibly
Social media can be your worst enemy when it comes to self-care. Instagram is the perfect medium for comparing your step #1 to someone else’s step #1000. Pay attention to how certain people and accounts make you feel, and learn to notice the difference between feeling inspired and feeling the need to compare yourself to others.
If someone inspires you to be your best self, to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, or to try something new, it’s probably helpful content. If you start to feel bad about yourself, you can discreetly mute them so that you don’t see their content as often. It’s OK to mute or unfollow someone solely because of how their account makes you feel.
9. Be kind to yourself
Resist the urge to fight, force, or confront yourself, and instead take the most compassionate, kindest possible approach. You’re traveling, so you’re already doing something hard that requires courage and patience. Give yourself grace. Forgive yourself for any mistakes that you make (or have made, or will make).
Talk to yourself like you would talk to a dear friend. Show yourself compassion, and don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go your way. You’re going to make mistakes, learn from them, and grow–that’s just part of being a World Traveler.
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10. Care for your body
Proactively take steps to care for your body when traveling. You’re asking a lot of yourself when you travel, from the new foods to the different types of exercise to the interrupted sleep. Stretch, practice good posture, and be sure to get enough exercise.
I love to monitor my exercise with a fitness tracker because I appreciate the objectivity. Sometimes I’ve had days of traveling when I would have sworn I got a TON of exercise, but my watch tells me otherwise. It’s a nice, objective way of understanding how active you’ve been on your trip. If you notice that your fitness tracker shows a few days of heavy activity, it might be a sign that you’re in need of a rest.
Protect your joints
Travel can be a totally different strain on your body than you experience at home. For that reason, take special care to protect your joints. You’ll want to avoid injuries both so that you don’t have to spend precious hours of your trip sitting in a clinic or skip activities that you were excited about.
You don’t need to wait to be “fit” before taking a trip, but if your trip itinerary is very physical, you might benefit from doing some training ahead of your departure. Even something as simple as adding in a few thousand more steps per day can help you to prepare your body before relying on it to carry you all over a new country.
Resist the temptation to carry backpacks on one shoulder, overload your backpack, or carry bags with one arm for long periods of time. Always engage your core and lift with your legs, especially when hoisting a heavy pack.
Wear appropriate, comfortable shoes, choose hikes and outdoor activities that are appropriate for your fitness level. I like to carry a knee brace for extra support when hiking. If your knees start to feel sore, take a break as soon as is practicable.
Bonus Tip for Long Term Travel: Take a Day Off
If you’ll be traveling for multiple weeks, you might benefit from scheduling a rest day here and there. These can look different from trip to trip, but might include things like: visiting a public bath house/hot spring, going to the beach, or really any activity that will give you some dedicated time to take a break.
Another version of a rest day is simply booking a nice Airbnb or private hostel room so that you can relax in your room. Sometimes having a slower day, paired with a relatively luxurious accommodation, can be enough to recharge your batteries.
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Quick Fix Self-Care Tips
From time to time when you’re traveling, you may find that you just need a quick fix to try to get back to normal. Here is a list of small “quick fix” tips that you can try if you have limited time and need a self-care break.
-Take a shower
-Eat an orange and/or banana
-Drink 32 oz of water
-Do 3 sun salutations
-Watch one of your favorite YouTube videos or Netflix shows
-If you’re hot or overheating, run cool water over the insides of your wrists
-Do your laundry
-Have a coffee or tea
-Take a break and read for 30 minutes
-Lay on the floor with your legs up the wall for 20 minutes
-Brush your teeth
-Take a nap
-Drink a green juice
-Go see a movie
-Go for a walk
–Cook a healthy dinner for yourself
Final Thoughts: How to practice self-care while traveling
It’s ok to have highs and lows when you’re traveling–everyone does! No one is having fun 100% of the time that they’re on the road. Sometimes travel is stressful, frustrating, or just boring. The more you can do to take care of yourself from the beginning to the end of your trip, the less time you’ll lose from feeling drained and/or overwhelmed.
Continue your self-care rituals that are working for you at home while you’re abroad. If you know that you’re someone who needs lots of extra sleep, make sure that you’ll be able to get enough zzz’s while on your trip. If you know that you need to have an hour to yourself in the morning, make a plan so that you can have that time. Your needs are valid, and you deserve to have a great time while you’re on your trip.
Do you have a self-care tip that I didn’t list here? Let me know in the comments?